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Atrium of the basilica of Sant'Ambrogio, Milan, 1088–1128.—Alinari/Art Resource, New York
In an ancient Roman house, an open central court that contained the impluvium, a basin where rainwater collected. It originally contained the hearth and functioned as the center of family life. The term later came to be used for the open front courtyard of a Christian basilica, where congregants collected before services. The atrium was revived in the 20th century in the form of glass-covered, greenery-filled multistory spaces sometimes found in shopping centers, office buildings, and large hotels.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on atrium, visit Britannica.com.